unreasonable sick leave policy?

A reader writes:

I work for a well-known hospital in New York City. The company administers an employee satisfaction survey every year, and for the past few years there had been an increasingly negative response to the policies concerning sick leave. We accrue 90 hours of sick time a year (twelve 7.5 hour days). The original policy tied the number of days that you were out sick to 20% of your performance evaluation which, in turn, directly impacted your raise. This year, the HR department revised the policy, stating that it was no longer tied to your performance evaluation. However, any absences over 4 days within a 12 month period now result in disciplinary action. Here is the breakdown:

Over 4 days – counseling
Over 6 days – verbal warning
Over 8 days – written warning
Over 10 days – final warning
Over 12 days – termination

I assure you that I am not exaggerating in the least. How is it that the hospital can give us 90 hours of sick leave a year and then fire someone if they use it? There is no standing requirement that employees turn in a doctor’s note unless they are out more than three days consecutively. I might add that the nature of my work is very stressful in that we deal with a high volume of very sick patients. Is this even legal?

It’s legal but parts of it are not particularly wise or fair. Basically, the hospital is saying that if you use more than the number of sick days provided, it’s grounds for termination. That’s not that unusual; many employers draw a line in the sand about how much absenteeism is simply too much.

But what stands out to me about this policy is that there are various disciplinary measures well before an employee reaches that point. Why give you 12 sick days if you’re going to start getting warned after using only four of them? It’s silly and sends a message that you don’t really have the 12 sick days they claim you have.

(I am assuming, by the way, that the employer makes the legally-required exceptions for FMLA, etc.)

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Marcus*

    Sounds like a similar policy to the company I just left. They revised the call-out policy, among several other things, and if you called out with less than 24 hours notice, it counted as an ‘incident.’ Enough incidents and you had a disciplinary scale much like the one in the original question.

    The company would also mark you as an incident if you gave 24 hours notice, but there were no hours ‘available’ on the day you took off.

    Just one of the many reasons I have sworn to never work in a call center again.

  2. Anonymous*

    Being in NY, things get a little interesting because of the wide body of corporate law that exists in NY.

    NY State Law, Labor Section, Article 6, Section 198C – says that employers are required to pay out for benefits. Now, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to fire you after USING such benefits. But there’s a good possibility that case law might show that someone’s already tested this specific scenario.

    So, I would check with an attorney in NY to see if this issue has been brought before the courts and to see if a determination hasn’t already been handed down. NY is always a little interesting – so it’s possible that some judge has already reviewed this type of thing.

    Regardless, in NY, I would make the argument (and I think it’s supported by NY State Law) that benefits are part of my WAGES … and failure to pay benefits (or to restrict their payment in this way), is actually avoidance of paying wages. As such, it’s against the law.

    Just my $0.02 worth. I’m not a NY-licensed attorney… and even if I was, I’m not YOUR attorney. Go find competent counsel in your local area to review you particular situation. :)

  3. Anonymous*


    The hospital, full of people with compromised immune systems, is punishing staff for staying home with the flu? Or bronchitis? Or anything else communicable?

    Not wild about the customer service!

    Time to review other employment options.

    Lois Gory

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